Arash Madani doesn’t have time for platitudes.
So while he appreciates the members of CFL leadership that have come forward guaranteeing that their teams will play this year, he remains focused on those who have remained problematically silent.
Unfortunately, that has brought the Sportsnet reporter in conflict with Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young.
“I get that Bob Young wants to play and I appreciate that Bob Young has tweeted and said Hamilton’s in it to play. Well, of course they are. They’re hosting the Grey Cup. There’s a lot in it for them,” Madani told Derek Taylor of The SportsCage Wednesday.
“Ottawa has said they’re going to play. Have we heard from Toronto? Have we heard from Montreal? No.”
Madani and Young got into a feisty exchange on Twitter before the appearance, after Young indicated all teams were on board to play despite “pessimistic press stories” to the contrary. Madani wouldn’t allow that scapegoating attempt to slide, reminding the caretaker that all teams haven’t been on the same page throughout this process.
“Let’s just say B.C. is going to play, because I don’t even know who’s running the show there. Of the eight remaining teams, we have not heard from two, the two teams that many believe are the reason why there was no bubble last year. Until that changes, Bob can say whatever he wants,” Madani shrugged.
Last year, the league office and players’ association had constructed a plan to play in a hub city in Winnipeg. However, after the feds declined to give the CFL a $30 million interest-free loan, it was ultimately decided by the board of governors the 2020 season would be cancelled. There were owners who wanted to play, including Young, and others against it.
While Young has promised the Tiger-Cats will be on the field in 2021, other teams have steered clear of offering such guarantees.
The CFL has delayed the start date with a 14-game schedule targeted to kick-off on August 5, culminating in a currently planned December 12 Grey Cup. For the timeline to be met, the league requires ‘a significant number of fans’ to be allowed in stadiums by municipal, provincial, and federal governments.
The league and union began meetings during the second week of February with a focus on playing football this year. The two sides have submitted return to play health and safety plans to various levels of government in Canada and must finalize the protocols with six provinces before getting the final stamp from the nation’s capital.
While Bob Young may insist casting doubt on the 2021 season is foolish, Madani remains ready with the facts.
“You don’t have federal government approval yet because the six provinces have yet to give you written approval. I’ve seen reports that the provinces gave a verbal go ahead to the PHAC [Public Health Agency of Canada]. Well, Justin Dunk got that federal government body on the record with a statement saying, ‘No, we need written approval from the provinces. We have not received that,'” he insisted.
“Do I think it’s going to happen? Yes, I do. Has it happened? No, it hasn’t. But where are we now compared to last year when we had the bubble situation? We still have not heard every privately owned team say we are absolutely going to play no matter what.”
There remains also the looming spectre of XFL talks, though Madani believes that isn’t at play here as much as one might suspect. This is simply a situation of rich business owners hesitant to dip into their own pocket books and for that there is no quick fix.
“I don’t think it’s all XFL-related, I really don’t. I think it’s, ‘How much are we going to lose again?’ I think it’s, ‘Where is this going?’ If you’re a business owner, these are some questions that I have and there probably are not many answers to either,” Madani explained.
“But Bob said it’s the media’s fault, so who knows?”
Until the both MLSE and Gary Stern step up with a publicly commitment to the CFL, it’s a debate that will keep occurring.